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Irsay set for deal to make Manning NFL's highest-paid player

INDIANAPOLIS -- Quarterback Peyton Manning is expected to receive a pay raise next season.

Oft-injured safety Bob Sanders might have to take a pay cut, and longtime running backs coach Gene Huey is looking for a new job.

It's just one week into the Indianapolis Colts' offseason, and already one of the NFL's most stable teams is preparing for the whirlwind of twists and turns.

"Yeah, I think something will get done (with Manning), but it's hard to predict when," Tom Condon, the agent for Manning and Sanders, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

At first glance, it looks as if this will be one of the least contentious negotiations in league history. Team owner Jim Irsay reiterated late last week that he still intends to make Manning, the only four-time MVP in league history, the NFL's highest-paid player.

But first, the two sides must agree on who holds the distinction now.

Manning's expiring deal, signed in 2004 for $98 million, was one of the largest ever at the time. Four quarterbacks -- Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger and Donovan McNabb -- all agreed to deals totaling at least $100 million, though each of those contracts was longer than Manning's. Vick's record-setting $130-million contract also was later voided.

Or it could be annual average salary. Manning's younger brother, Eli, signed a six-year deal with the New York Giants worth $97.5 million last year, giving him $16.25 million per year. New England's Brady topped that in September, agreeing to a four-year contract worth $72 million, or $18 million per year.

Or perhaps it could be based on guaranteed money. St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford received a record $50 million guaranteed in his rookie contract last summer. Even Brady, a three-time Super Bowl winner, couldn't top that. He received $48.5 million.

Irsay has generally cited Brady's deal as the standard, and he has made it clear that he wants Manning to stay with the Colts for the rest of his career.

Both sides say negotiations haven't yet begun.

"I'm not going to get into any specifics in terms of the negotiations, but I've said before this is an unusual situation," Irsay told The AP. "It's not a normal negotiation, his legacy and our relationship, it's very unusual. You hope it happens a lot, but it doesn't."

Irsay wanted to reach a new deal last summer, but when that didn't happen, the Colts tried to make Manning a formal offer during their bye week. Condon then told them Manning wanted to focus on football, not contracts, until after the season.

Now, things could become complicated.

Manning turns 35 in March, and although Irsay wants to make him a Colt for life, age could certainly dictate how long the quarterback signs for -- and that could impact the deal's total value.

And this time, the Colts will have to negotiate without a collective bargaining agreement to guide them.

"I think we're going to have to try to move forward with some things before early March, knowing (about the CBA) or not," Irsay said.

Manning's contract isn't the only concern for Irsay.

The Colts' list of potential free agents includes running back Joseph Addai, safety Melvin Bullitt, left tackle Charlie Johnson, defensive tackle Dan Muir, linebacker Clint Session and kicker Adam Vinatieri. The good news is none of those players can sign with another team until a new CBA is in place.

The bad news: They still need room to be flexible.

One way to save money could be redoing the $37.5 million contract that Sanders signed after winning the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. Sanders has played in just nine regular-season games over the past three seasons, and he has missed more games (64) than he has played in (48) during his seven-year career.

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On Friday, Irsay said the team was discussing the possibility of redoing Sanders' deal -- something Condon for which already is preparing.

"I anticipate the same thing you do," Condon said. "The guy doesn't play for three consecutive years, they're probably not real excited about that, and they paid the other safety, what $6.5 million, this year. Is there another team in the league that pays both its safeties more than $5 million? The answer is no. So he doesn't have to tell me anything."

Not enough?

On Tuesday, the Coltsparted ways with Huey, who had coached in a franchise-record 304 games as an assistant coach. In 19 seasons with Indianapolis, Huey's star pupils included names such as Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James, and the coach mentored five different 1,000-yard runners.

After finishing near the bottom of the NFL in rushing the last three years, coach Jim Caldwell decided to make the move, which was first reported by WTHR-TV and later confirmed by the Colts.

Irsay's No. 1 priority, of course, remains working out a new deal for Manning.

"I think the market's out there, and you know it's something we'll work on. The offer will reflect him being right there with Brady and being at the top," Irsay said. "We look forward to getting something done."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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